Nieman News

Journalists in Colombia under attack for covering the drug wars have won the 1990 Louis Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism, the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University announced May 25, 1990.

This year’s award, which honors Colombian reporters living and dead for their work on the drug story, was accepted by Luis Gabriel Cano, President of El Espectador, the embattled daily in Bogota, which has lost many of its writers, editors and business employees in death or exile and had its newsroom bombed by narco-terrorists last September.

A committee of the 21 members of the Nieman Class of 1990 chose the Colombians for the award, which is named in honor of former Nieman Curator Louis M. Lyons. The award is in recognition of the many journalists who have shown courage in aggressively reporting on the Colombian drug wars despite threats, the murder of their colleagues and attacks on their newsrooms by drug traffickers.

“Journalists in Colombia are working under the worst censorship in the world-the threat of death, ” said Cano. during a telephone interview with the selection committee.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York based human rights group, has documented the killing of 20 reporters and editors in Colombia by agents of drug lords in the last five years. However, Cano and other journalists working in Colombia estimate that 50 news organization workers have been slain; this figure includes business employees who have been killed.

Even before the drug traffickers’ declaration last August of “total and absolute war” against Colombia’s democratic institutions, El Espectador had been a primary target because of its unflinching coverage and editorial campaign against drugs and corruption. Among those from the paper who were murdered was Cano’s brother, Guillermo Cano, who was El Espectador’s Editor-in-Chief and crusading columnist. Others have had their homes bombed and children threatened; some have been forced into exile.

“Mr. Cano has lost his brother and several of his associates to the narco-mafia assassins, and recently suffered a major bombing to the newspaper’s installations, which cause $2.5 million in damages, seriously jeopardizing the paper,” I. Roberto Eisenmann, Jr. Editor of La Prensa in Panama and a former Nieman Fellow, wrote in nominating Cano for the award. “Yet Cano struggles on, realizing that if his newspaper fails in its efforts his country’s institutions might crumble, giving way to narco-mafia domination….His courage is especially inspiring for our profession.”

“Journalism was a dangerous bushiness in many parts of the world this past year-from Tiananmen Square to Bensonhurst, Queens-but: the committee and many journalists nominating for the award felt the Colombians had paid a particularly high price and shown a special courage in covering this important story, ” said Nieman Fellow Ann Marie Lipinski, chair of this year’s Lyons Award Committee.

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